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Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability1,2

  1. Claudine Manach,
  2. Augustin Scalbert,
  3. Christine Morand,
  4. Christian Rémésy, and
  5. Liliana Jiménez

+Author Affiliations

  1. 1From the Unité des Maladies Métaboliques et Micronutriments, INRA, Saint-Genès Champanelle, France (CM, AS, CM, and CR), and Danone Vitapole Research, Palaiseau cedex, France (LJ).


Polyphenols are abundant micronutrients in our diet, and evidence for their role in the prevention of degenerative diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases is emerging. The health effects of polyphenols depend on the amount consumed and on their bioavailability. In this article, the nature and contents of the various polyphenols present in food sources and the influence of agricultural practices and industrial processes are reviewed. Estimates of dietary intakes are given for each class of polyphenols. The bioavailability of polyphenols is also reviewed, with particular focus on intestinal absorption and the influence of chemical structure (eg, glycosylation, esterification, and polymerization), food matrix, and excretion back into the intestinal lumen. Information on the role of microflora in the catabolism of polyphenols and the production of some active metabolites is presented. Mechanisms of intestinal and hepatic conjugation (methylation, glucuronidation, sulfation), plasma transport, and elimination in bile and urine are also described. Pharmacokinetic data for the various polyphenols are compared. Studies on the identification of circulating metabolites, cellular uptake, intracellular metabolism with possible deconjugation, biological properties of the conjugated metabolites, and specific accumulation in some target tissues are discussed. Finally, bioavailability appears to differ greatly between the various polyphenols, and the most abundant polyphenols in our diet are not necessarily those that have the best bioavailability profile. A thorough knowledge of the bioavailability of the hundreds of dietary polyphenols will help us to identify those that are most likely to exert protective health effects.


Over the past 10 y, researchers and food manufacturers have become increasingly interested in polyphenols. The chief reason for this interest is the recognition of the antioxidant properties of polyphenols, their great abundance in our diet, and their probable role in the prevention of various diseases associated with oxidative stress, such as cancer and cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases (Scalbert A, Manach C, Morand C, Rémésy C, Jiménez L. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, in press). Furthermore, polyphenols, which constitute the active substances found in many medicinal plants, modulate the activity of a wide range of enzymes and cell receptors (1). In this way, in addition to having antioxidant properties, polyphenols have several other specific biological actions that are as yet poorly understood. Two aims of research are to establish evidence for the effects of polyphenol consumption on health and to identify which of the hundreds of existing polyphenols are likely to provide the greatest protection in the context of preventive nutrition. If these objectives are to be attained, it is first essential to determine the nature and distribution of these compounds in our diet. Such knowledge will allow evaluation of polyphenol intake and enable epidemiologic analysis that will in turn provide an understanding of the relation between the intake of these substances and the risk of development of several diseases. Furthermore, not all polyphenols are absorbed with equal efficacy. They are extensively metabolized by intestinal and hepatic enzymes and by the intestinal microflora. Knowledge of the bioavailability and metabolism of the various polyphenols is necessary to evaluate their biological activity within target tissues. The types and distribution of polyphenols in foods and the bioavailability of polyphenols are the topics of the present review.